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Mary Beth Ellis :
41 article(s)

Mary Beth Ellis writes from Orlando, Florida.
March 10th, 2003
Does the Glamour of Evil Make It Easier to Believe In?

I am going to break one of my own writing rules here, and turn to Hollywood for wisdom:
“Why,” said George Burns, representing God, “is it so easy to believe in that movie about exorcism, and not believe in me? All she did was spit out some pea soup, and suddenly everybody’s talking about the devil.”
Well�evil, at least on the surface, is cool. Hit the true crimes section of any bookstore: We cannot get enough of guts and guns and rape. Hanging around with Ned Flanders , on the other hand, is the quickest ticket to the non-invite list. Witchcraft, Satan, possession, hell�these are things not discussed in polite company, and we are therefore endlessly fascinated.
Back in the fall,…

March 3rd, 2003
Two Women, Two Nations at War

War began on my thirteenth birthday, alien blue tracer fire arcing over the minarets and round curving buildings of Baghdad. I sat cross-legged on the couch with an open notebook in my lap, not studying for final exams. There were too many journalists swearing comically into gas masks for such things.
Since then
Between the first Persian Gulf War and last Wednesday, I graduated from high school (“Did Kerry say I sent Tim a note? I never sent Tim a note!”) earned two college degrees (“Did Kerry say I let Tim buy me a shot? Tim can’t buy squat when he’s face down in a puddle of Yaegermeister! Go ahead, email him!”) and completed a Master’s in nonfiction writing (both Kerry…

December 31st, 2002
A Different Way to Spend New Year's Eve

I lifted my head off the pillow: The clock read 12:27 AM. I pumped one fist in the air: Yes! I had done it. I had?avoided New Year’s Eve.
This, then, was rock bottom. It was even worse than New Year’s Eve 1997. That was four days after a tonsillectomy. I had cradled my throbbing ears (your ears do hurt after a tonsillectomy?as I discovered, the difficult way, it’s all connected up there), begging God for the approach of midnight. Not that I could barely wait to usher in a brand new year, but four hours had passed since my last codeine dose, and it was time for a beautiful new pill.
A new strategy
This time I arrived at rock bottom courtesy of a very serious ex, who had very seriously dumped me. New Year’s…

December 28th, 2002
Greed and the Dr. Atkins Diet

Since moving to Florida, I have gained thirteen pounds. Perhaps it’s the stress of the move. Perhaps I’m scared and alone and subconsciously seek to fill the void with food. Perhaps it’s the fact that for the past six months I have been, on a somewhat regular basis, eating an entire pizza then falling directly into bed. You be the judge.
However they got there, they are there nonetheless: thirteen lumpy, pants-tightening pounds. At first I attempted to convince myself that the scales in the NASA heath center were somehow miscalibrated (these people have designed a four-ton crane that can rest its cargo on the shell of an egg. I think they can handle a bathroom scale.) One day, however, I noticed…

December 25th, 2002
Holiday Stress and Our Great Expectations

When did this happen?
Sometime between donning my grade school uniform and slapping on my work uniform, toting up another day on the Advent calendar became not a cause for celebration but a very good reason to wince. Another day closer. Another day of failing to get it all done.
The Christmas cards are complete, all right: completely in the box, unwritten, unaddressed, unrelentingly guilt-inducing. I have been in this apartment since July and am still stepping around boxes. Your card will arrive sometime around the end of the Bush administration. I’m the only person in America whose poinsettia rests on the stove’s left front burner.
The cookies are in elemental form. Flour. Eggs. Sugar. I forget…

December 25th, 2002
Men and Women and the Perils of Gift Giving

There’s nothing like cheap impersonal crap for Christmas, is there?
A buddy of mine once worked at a company that at the corporate Christmas party proudly presented to each and every employee�an extension cord. Well, hoop de holly. At least it beat the previous year’s gift, which was a wall clock featuring the company logo.
They say that it’s the thought that counts�and that’s the point. Tempting, isn’t it, to sail down the aisle at Walgreen’s on December 23 and grab the first battery-operated gyrating Elvis in a Santa hat you see. But if you’re going to run through a mall and snatch up the first plastic angel statue you see just because you “need”…

December 3rd, 2002
Seen the "Gift of the Year" Lately?

Remember all that news footage of mothers beating one another over the head in a mad rush to snag the Must-Have, Hot Gift Of The Year, the one their children are whining for and will tire of approximately four seconds after opening it?
I haven’t seen one this year. It doesn’t exist.
Nice, huh?
Some look upon this annual Olympic wrestling at the mall as the act of a loving parent fulfilling the wishes and dreams of the baby she carried and bore, the mighty efforts of a woman desperate to keep alive a child’s innocent love of and trust in Santa Claus in this cold, cruel world.
Others look upon this as sick.
Perhaps I inherited the latter attitude from my mother, who patently refused to participate in the…

December 1st, 2002
Embrace Those Moments

When I was young and na�ve and honestly thought that little girls who could not add or subtract in their heads could grow up to become astronauts, I presented significant sums of allowance to NASA Line , an 1-900 number that allowed the dialee to eavesdrop on Houston-astronaut chatter during space shuttle missions. Occasionally a commentator would break in to translate the flying acronyms.
Imagine the yo-yo of horror and delight I shot through upon moving to Cape Canaveral when I discovered that what I had been listening to was the live audio track of NASA TV mission coverage, which I could now experience all day, every day�for free.
Always one to glut on over-information, NTV (for nothing is officially attached…

December 1st, 2002
Something Wrong at the Yuletide?

There’s something wrong here.
It’s December, and I am not only jacketless, but wearing shorts. I lived four years in South Bend, Indiana�December is loss of sensation in the lower extremities.
The lights started going up here in Cape Canaveral a week before Thanksgiving, the citizens hanging tinsel in sandals and tank tops. They twined lights along palm tree trunks and set up giant inflatable snowmen in sun-burned yards.
It’s 24 degrees in South Bend right now and an SUV is currently skidding through snowbanks on the television set. I have the air conditioning on.
There is something very wrong here.
Or maybe not wrong, but different. (Approximately fifty degrees of difference.) I think…

October 18th, 2002
Can John Edward Give Us Peace about the Dead? Do We Need Him to?

Talked to any dead friends or relatives lately?
John Edward says he does it all the time.
You’ve probably heard of Edward, who hosts the syndicated Crossing Over. A self-described “medium,” he stands in a gallery of audience members eager to receive messages from loved ones who have died. Some have been informed of foul play; others are delighted to be assured that their loved ones are aware of a new baby or a new tattoo or old guilt.
There’s no doubt that something is going on with Edward; he seems to know too much about too many people he’s never met. He’s sweet, likable, gracious, and seems to genuinely care about the audience members with whom he communicates. His calm demeanor,…

September 30th, 2002
Wherever You Go, Longing for Somewhere Else

I cried in the frozen foods aisle last night.
I lived with my parents in Cincinnati for two years while I finished my master’s degree and could not wait to leave. This is not to say I don’t respect and love my parents, both fine people in their own rights, or that I don’t love and respect Cincinnati, the Bengals not withstanding. However, when you and nearly everyone you know has grown up within a fifteen-mile radius of where their great-great-grandparents first stepped off the flatboat, at some point you begin to seek out other, less bowling-alley-intensive vistas.
I was in Florida working for NASA within four months of graduation. People schlep school buses and Radio Shack warrantees for entire…

September 11th, 2002
A 9/11 Holiday Is Not What We Need

A year ago September 11, Lisa Beamer was a media nobody�practically a stigma in today’s American Idol Real World Funniest Home Videos Bachelor Dating Contest Survivor world. Of all the people whose lives were changed on that day, perhaps hers was changed the most.
Lisa Beamer, who has since been publicly applauded by the President, the Congress, and the media, is Todd Beamer’s wife… Todd Beamer, a United Airlines Flight 93 passenger who recited the Our Father along with a cell phone operator and then said “Let’s roll” to his fellow passengers as they overpowered their captors, protecting sacred national monuments, saving lives. The terrorists in control of the plane,…

September 1st, 2002
Adventures in Office Romance (on the QT)

Approximately a year ago, I wrote a well-thought-out, carefully polished essay on the subject of dating a co-worker.
The entirety of it had been pulled directly from my ass. I can’t even remember the last time I was simultaneously employed and in a relationship. One destroyed my energy and the other never paid enough. (It’s a Catholic website. You figure out which is which.)
I came to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center for a job. Cast over my shoulder into the Ohio River back in Cincinnati was a marriage-bent relationship that was ended by the potential groom with an email. I wanted that beaten away by the ocean, the vastness of the Atlantic purging my heart, the salt water returning me to a self-contained…

August 15th, 2002

Have you talked to your Mother today?
You might want to contact her.
She’s been waiting for you.
She loves you very much, and would like to know how your day went.
She will listen to tales of traffic snarls, snarling customers, and snarling bosses all day long if you let her. She wants to know if your lunch was soggy or if the new girl has smiled at you yet.
Your Mother will listen without interjecting the opinion that you really should get the toilet clean, get married, get a child. She loves you with or without these things.
She’s older than you are, and knows better, but waits quietly until asked for advice.
Your mother is aching to hold you, for this woman knows sorrow. She is never closer than when you are bleeding…

August 10th, 2002
Your Summer Romance Could Be Divine

Men and women of a certain age were simply unable to reach maturity without attending some social event that featured the soundtrack from the movie Grease, particularly that portion in which the phenomenon of the summer romantic fling is celebrated (or, more specifically, as the song goes: “Oh, those su-um-mer nigh-igh-ights…….”). This was John Travolta’s—and, quite possibly, America’s—finest hour.
I’m not precisely sure what it is about summer that makes us more apt to release our phone numbers to the opposite sex; perhaps we’re simply trying to avoid the loser status of the one-seat line at the roller coaster.
What I do know is that you can also…

July 1st, 2002

There’s only one thing worse than waking to a blaring alarm clock five days a week, flailing away at traffic, flailing away at co-workers, flailing away at management, peeling Saran Wrap away from warmish tuna salad in the middle of the day, and trundling home as night falls to start all over again: Not doing it.
I know a few people who are between projects right now, and for the most part there is pluckish perseverance and pseudo-bragging about arising at the hour of The Price Is Right . But I’ve been there, and I know the sinking stomach, the shrinking checking account, the 3 a.m. conversations with the ceiling tile: Aren’t I good enough? Why did they let me go? Did I really do the right thing when I…

May 5th, 2002
"Hey! Where the hell'd you learn to drive?"

The man in the grey van pulled alongside me as I made my way across the parking lot. The permanent plates on my rental car said otherwise, but I was a visitor here, at the end of long and horrible day. I was currently lost for the 857th time in a twenty-four hour period, and the near-miss I’d just had with the van while I was searching out a street sign was the last in a long series of delights not mentioned in the travel brochures.
I walked on, staring straight ahead; color me paranoid, but engaging in conversations with angry, van-driving men who follow me into dark parking lots does not qualify as a tremendously smart safety move.
He continued to glide along next to me. “F—ing can’t-drive whore…

March 15th, 2002
Are the cookies the only thing not stale?

All hail that most American of snacks, the Girl Scout cookie, with its two vital lessons in capitalism: Pound on enough doors and your troop goes to Space Camp�or, send the sales sheet with Daddy to the office, and your troop goes to Space Camp.
God love those Thin Mints, but my troop barely left the I-275 beltloop of Cincinnati, let alone the atmosphere. Our cookie sales funded such activities as Beauty and Makeup Night�the marketing division hadn’t yet invented the splashy cookie box photos of Scouts rope climbing or careening past boys on dirt bikes�and summer day camps along the tributaries of the Ohio. At camp we engaged in such empowering activities as cleaning the outdoor latrines, a delicate…

January 16th, 2002

This is my very favorite at-work freakout story.
An office worker, fearing anthrax contamination, pulled on a pair of rubber gloves to protect him as he opened a stack of mail. As we worked, he was horrified to discover white powder scattered on his pants. He leapt up, called security, and the usual evacuation, sample collection, and general hysteria followed. After an interminable wait, the results returned from the lab: The suspicious white powder was� residue from the rubber gloves.
This biting of ourselves in the behind is entirely understandable in a world in which metal detectors are stationed at the entrance gates to Disneyland. First it was psychos bursting into boardrooms with mail bombs and guns;…

January 3rd, 2002

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder , which places me in the arms of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). I do not recommend OCD to anyone�it involves, for instance, obsessing, compulsing, and a very great deal of hand-washing�but the ADA awards me bonus points in job consideration with certain federal agencies. Where a civilian job ad with the Air Force was concerned, I wasn’t even eligible for consideration if I couldn’t prove I was partway insane. Somehow, this makes sense.
Here’s a lovely favor that I wasn’t sure I wanted to accept. It’s an odd life an obsessive-compulsive leads: We know, intellectually, that if we fail to enter the grocery store by a certain…

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